Thanks to George’s inspired determination, past clients of the Eugene Service Station are not forgotten
George Lastrapes pursued his passion for classical portraiture and used it to memorialize others who came to St. Vincent de Paul for help. In so doing, he demonstrated the immense potential that lies within each person.
Ironically, some of George’s later works were of his vision of Jesus, which covers everyone he didn’t get to paint during his 20 years in Eugene. That time ended this spring with his quiet passing.
From the get-go, SVdP Homeless and Emergency Services Director Roxann O’Brien recognized that George was “off-the-charts smart.” As the story goes, his passivist nature led him to spend the tumultuous sixties in Europe where he explored museums and galleries, and was captivated by the soul-baring works of painters Diego Velazquez, John Singer Sargent, and Johannes Vermeer. Back home in Texas, George worked as a commercial painter until the chemicals affected his health, then he came to Eugene.
George was an independent student, frequently turning to library collections and melding the techniques of the old masters into his own. With tagboard rectangles as his canvasses and a rickety camper as his studio, George turned out one stunning portrait every few months, bringing to mind faces once familiar at the Eugene Service Station.
George had been in the Overnight Parking Program for two years when SVdP received its first round of Rapid Rehousing funds. He came to mind immediately, said Roxann O’Brien. George had a small monthly income but could not afford the up-front deposits and fees associated with housing.
SVdP case managers got George into a new two-bedroom mobile home at a SVdP-owned park within walking distance of the Eugene Service Station. The move came just as George was warned by his doctor that another year in the camper would likely be his last due to worsening COPD.
George’s spare bedroom served as a bright studio that still produced little masterpieces and even won George a few patrons from among the Lindholm Center staff. One commissioned him to paint a 25th anniversary portrait; another, Marianne Schlies, used her own funds to keep George in painter’s supplies for the rest of his life.
George’s renderings of Jesus have their own stories. The first was on a staff member’s desk when it caught the eye of a longtime SVdP volunteer seated nearby. He was intrigued and wanted to know more about that particular person and what happened to him.
Upon learning the face wasn’t just any ESS client but Jesus himself, the volunteer’s reaction rendered staff unable to do anything but give him the portrait. Its replacement is in storage, along with the whole collection which was displaced by renovation at the Eugene Service Station.
Life keeps rolling along there, and one more “family member” won’t be coming back. But, during his years in Eugene, George got what he needed: A modest lifestyle, time to study and hone his art, and his friends at the Eugene Service Station. He said in a 2007 interview, “The modern age fractures the family structure.
“This place (Eugene Service Station) is a surrogate family for all the little pieces.”
With his passing, George has taken a little piece of SVdP’s collective heart.